I usually understand what is good about a book, even if it's not to my taste. Amy Hempel baffles me and I am sure it is I who am lacking as a critic, not the literary types who love this stuff. Even Chuck Palahniuk, one of my favorites, loves it (unless he is pulling our legs, and I don't think he is). Having said that, my main problem is what I see as self-conscious writing style. For me it gets in the way of whatever else there may be to enjoy. The fact that a lot of the stories neither seem to go anywhere, nor hint at any meaning beyond the obvious, bothers me too. Oh, yeah, I also found this distracting: It seems like she must keep a notebook of one-liners (some of them ancient) and works them into the flow in just the cutest way. It's me, I know.
I can't say enough good things about this book. It's all four of her collections of short stories in one - Tumble Home, The Dog of the Marriage, and two others. You find yourself wanting to read it aloud to someone. Her use of language is incredible, and you come away feeling like you need to create. Each word serves a purpose. I won't be parting with this one.
I am just not a short story fan.